It’s the week Test cricket needed

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    The past week has breathed life into Test cricket, the sport’s venerable old lady.

    In the space of 15 hours, West Indies ran down 322 to beat England at Leeds, while Bangladesh recorded a 20-run win over Australia at Mirpur.

    Just as one swallow doesn’t make a drunk, these results in isolation are not guaranteed to bring about extended periods of success for either team.

    But, there is no doubting the importance of the two matches played thousands of kilometres apart.

    The West Indies, a one-time all conquering juggernaut, has been in a seemingly perennial malaise slipping to the ignominy of number eight in the world.

    Bangladesh’s victory was a historic result – its first win over Australia.

    The crowd swelled at Mirpur as the seminal moment approached. Even the Prime Minister, a cricket fan herself, arrived to see the last rites.

    The triumph continued an upward trend for a country that has carried the moniker of ‘minnow’ since they were granted Test status in 2000.

    The country’s first 34 Tests – before its maiden win against Zimbabwe at Chittagong in 2005 – resulted in 31 losses and three draws.

    That first up win over Zimbabwe was followed by another drought – 24 matches for 21 losses and three draws.

    In those first 58 Tests, 33 were lost by more than an innings. It was a baptism of fire.

    Finally, in recent times, the positives have outweighed the negatives.

    At home in July last year, Bangladesh played out two rain-affected draws against South Africa.

    In the first Test it took a 78-run lead on the first innings before the match was washed out soon after.

    In October, it completed a one-all draw against England. The tourists win at Chittagong was by a mere 22 runs, leaving the hosts just shy of a series sweep.

    In Sri Lanka in March, Bangladesh again played out a one-all draw.

    Given Australia’s visit to Sri Lanka last year resulted in a three-nil loss it showed how much Bangladesh has improved.

    And yesterday, it took Australia down.

    The current team boasts some handy players, headed up by Shakib Al Hasan who made 84 and captured ten wickets with his left-arm spin.

    Bangladesh cricket

    (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

    That performance solidified his number one all-rounder ranking ahead of the likes of Ben Stokes, Ravi Ashwin and Moeen Ali.

    Off-spinner Mehidy Hasan has 40 wickets at 31.4 from his first eight Tests and 21-year-old paceman, Mustafizur Rahman has taken 12 wickets at 24.9 in his first five appearances.

    Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 71 and 78 have elevated his 50-match Test average to 40.3, while wicket-keeping skipper Mushfiqur averages 35.4.

    Bangladesh now faces two challenges – one immediate and the other longer term.

    Firstly, it has the opportunity to sweep the current series. It will take a large measure of confidence into Chittagong, where Australia will be under the pump and nervous.

    From there, it is a matter of Bangladesh showing it can match it with the better teams overseas, especially beyond the sub-continent. That will be the real acid test.

    For West Indies, the Leeds result was a triumph of epic proportions.

    England had just downed South Africa 3-1 and beaten the Windies in the first Test at Birmingham by an innings and 209 runs.

    The prospect of a Caribbean victory at Headingley appeared a nigh impossibility.

    Clearly, Jason Holder’s men had not read the script.

    A fit and rejuvenated Kemar Roach along with Shannon Gabriel combined for eight wickets as England was dismissed well inside stumps on the opening day for 258.

    Centuries to Kraigg Braithwaite (134) and Shai Hope (147) helped secure a 169-run first innings lead.

    When England declared, however, at 8/490 and with a lead of 321 runs it seemed inevitable the hosts would take an assailable 2-nil series lead.

    Again, it was Braithwaite (95) and Hope (118no) who dominated the England bowling, guiding the tourists to a five-wicket win.

    Their match-winning performances came against a seasoned and experienced attack – James Anderson (497 wickets), Stuart Broad (386), Stokes (89) and Ali (128).

    Hopefully, for the likes of Braithwaite and Hope their efforts will prove to be a seminal moment in their careers.

    Holder is a young captain who, by all reports, is a popular leader. This win will infinitely boost his confidence.

    His team will head to Lord’s for the decider with genuine belief, a commodity not in abundance in recent years.

    For too long the West Indies have been searching for a potential catalyst. Leeds may have provided it.

    Contract and selection dramas have often captured more headlines in recent times than on-field performances.

    West Indies captain Jason Holder bowls

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The current side’s showing at Leeds has given both Caribbean fans and the media something positive to talk about.

    By dint of its history as an English sport that was transported to the colonies, cricket has a finite and small constituency of any note.

    The recent anointing of Afghanistan and Ireland with Test status has expanded the number of nations at the very top to a dozen.

    Test cricket has been fighting a battle for relevance in many people’s eyes in recent years.

    The proliferation of Twenty20 leagues with their glitz, glamour and increasingly appealing salaries allied to dwindling Test crowds and frequent one-sided series has brought pressure to bear on the longest form of the game.

    For it to prosper in this modern era, serious competition between the select group of Test-playing teams is crucial.

    Hopefully, performances like those we have seen in the past week will be a precursor to a more competitive Test arena.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • August 31st 2017 @ 4:59am
      GY said | August 31st 2017 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      With Darren Bravo’s imminent return from exile, the Windies will have a pretty decent middle order. Bravo, Hope, Chase and Blackwood are all good players and should they find an opener to pair with Braithwaite, we can look forward to the Windies being a formidable team over the next few years. I also think the young quick Joseph looks like an excellent prospect. Things are looking up for the once mighty Caribbean team …

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:27am
        Peter Z said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Yep, the windies batting is starting to take shape. Cricket in reality is going gangbusters in the windies at the moment. The CPL has the grounds teeming with fans again, and that has to translate to players coming through. Sure some of those players will be gravitate to T20, but the more elegant players will find that Test cricket is a better fit. And I especially feel that once they have some quality fast bowlers coming through, they’ll prefer Test cricket to being cannon fodder in the IPL. We can look forward to a resurgence of West Indies cricket soon, I feel

        • August 31st 2017 @ 9:11am
          Perry Bridge said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

          The rise of T20 is crucial – prior to that the capacity for Windies players to make a living was pretty limited – and the lure of soccer (Eng) and basketball (US) was a real threat.

          In the past the players from the Windies have played professionally in England, were only too willing to sign up with Packer and others later to join the ‘rebel’ tours to South Africa.

          Now – there’s more opportunity – and that’s a good thing. The long form/short form balance and guys not available for selection and issues like that – well – it perhaps is the trade off but better than the alternative.

          • August 31st 2017 @ 10:36am
            GY said | August 31st 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

            Well said Perry. I think the windies board will relax the qualification for selection going forward, and we’ll see less exiled players too

    • Roar Guru

      August 31st 2017 @ 5:20am
      Camo McD said | August 31st 2017 @ 5:20am | ! Report

      Agreed Glenn. It was great to see a couple of interesting test matches.

      Unfortunately, unless all the best professional cricketers are desperate to play tests and fans are interested in watching, I’m not sure what the future holds. Outside of the big 3, the best players can generally earn many times more through T20 or even county cricket. There is no real test championship, proper fixture schedule or even dedicated test windows. Why would these players want to cost themselves money?

      For every good test match there seems to be an awful lot of tests played in empty stadia as some sort of nod to convention but no real context or purpose. Lovely to see Ireland and Afg get test status several months ago. Probably means Eng or Aus might get around to playing against them in about 6-7 years.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:34am
        rock86 said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        “Outside of the big 3, the best players can generally earn many times more through T20 or even county cricket. There is no real test championship, proper fixture schedule or even dedicated test windows.”

        And that is why the ICB has just changed everything up. There will be a test championship, and while there will be no set ‘windows’ so to speak – all the top nations will need to play the smaller nations a minimum amount of time within that 3 year ‘championship’ period.

        Positive moves have been made, and I reckon Test match cricket will be around for a fair while yet.

    • August 31st 2017 @ 5:24am
      Gormon Kinchley said | August 31st 2017 @ 5:24am | ! Report

      I saw at least three, and read elsewhere that holder, just one bowler, had eight catches dropped off his bowling in this one match. And a couple from other bowlers too. That is just incredible.

    • Roar Pro

      August 31st 2017 @ 6:05am
      Andrew said | August 31st 2017 @ 6:05am | ! Report

      Agreed, and good to see a lot of us Australian and English fans seeing the bigger picture and acknowledging the greater good these two results have helped contribute to.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:38am
        rock86 said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        There’s still people in Aus – specifically mainstream media – calling it a ‘humiliating loss’ purely because it is Bangladesh.

        It’s funny how they don;t actually do any digging for stories, because if they did they’d realise that in Asia Bangladesh are a mighty good cricket team!

        • Roar Guru

          August 31st 2017 @ 12:43pm
          JamesH said | August 31st 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

          It might not be what the media meant, but it was still humiliating in terms of the way we unravelled. So many cross-batted shots on a pitch that was keeping low. That’s the sort of stuff you teach u13s not to do.

    • August 31st 2017 @ 7:09am
      Targa said | August 31st 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Meanwhile NZ Cricket have decided to just host 4 tests this summer (2 each against the Windies and England), even though we have potentially our best ever test top 4, a solid keeper batsman and a pretty good pace attack. Instead we have about a thousand ODIs and T20s. Test cricket is the premier form and it is great to see Bangladesh and the West Indies performing.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:12am
        Brendon said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        I’m guessing that the NZ Cricket would have wanted more tests against England but after an Ashes tour I don’t know if England would be wanting to be playing more.

        • August 31st 2017 @ 8:26am
          moaman said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          NZC decided to trade an extra Test for more one-dayers i believe.If that’s true then I’m shaking my head at how sad it is all becoming….

          • August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am
            Sydneysider said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            it’s all about money, that’s all.

            • August 31st 2017 @ 11:22am
              matth said | August 31st 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

              NZ cricket is not flush for cash and would need the extra money. Try to look on the bright side, that without the ODI money, even 4 tests may be a stretch.

    • Roar Guru

      August 31st 2017 @ 9:11am
      Giri Subramanian said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      Yes you are right. Bangladesh and West Indies winning is good for test cricket. Especially West Indies, I love their enthusiasm and love for the game. I hope they return to their glory days.

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